Exclusive: Benefits watchdog wants tougher punishment for jobless and disabled claimants after DWP bungles new sanctions system

New sanctions to be imposed in Jobcentres

From November 3 the Department for Work and Pensions introduced a new tough regime for people claiming the new Jobseekers Allowance and the Employment and Support Allowance. They will like those already on Universal Credit have to sign up to a ” claimant commitment ” to undertake whatever work coaches at the DWP demand from them to get a job, Failure to do so leads to a rising number of financial penalties ultimately leading to the withdrawal of all benefits.

The new regulations like the ones dealing with domestic abuse should have been scrutinised by Parliament but the main body that vets them is the little known Social Security Advisory Committee,(SSAC) a watchdog which is expected to see whether the benefit regime is fair and equitable.

Minutes and correspondence released by SSAC show that it has been doing its job since September and is currently involved in discussing the new regulations with Mims Davies, the employment minister.

Mim Davies, Parliamentary undersecretary at the Department for Work and Pensions

But people might be surprised to know that SSAC’s main focus has been on increasing the penalties on claimants rather than reducing them.

The reason is that the watchdog spotted that the tabled regulations had a big loophole which, in their view, made them less effective. The hideously complicated benefit system means that there are people who claim both Universal Credit and Jobseekers Allowance or the Employment and Support Allowance. Where they claim both the new regulations say only one penalty can apply on Universal Credit alone – and the Jobseekers Allowance and the Employment and Support Allowance remain untouched.

SSAC want the penalties to apply to both.

Dr Stephen Brien

Dr Stephen Brien, the chair of SSAC wrote to the minister: “in circumstances where the value of UC element of the benefit was lower than the sanctioned amount, the claimant would be in a more favourable position than a claimant solely in receipt of either UC or a new style benefit who would be impacted by the full force of the sanction. As it is possible that the UC element of a dual claim
could be zero, this presents a significant inconsistency.”

He went on: ” the Committee is of the strong view that this inconsistency be reviewed and addressed at the earliest opportunity.” The ministry went ahead with regulations as they stand and is still discussing what it should do while it looks at the effectiveness of the new sanctions.

Since the sanctions system depends on the views of the DWP work coach it looks like the fate of many claimants will decided by individual civil servants. Now it so happens that SSAC has done some serious work on the ” claimant commitment ” rules under Universal Credit which decide whether sanctions will be applied.

The report two years ago is a somewhat idealistic document which expects a parity of esteem between the civil servant handing out the sanction and a desperate claimant getting the benefit. It says the commitment should be accessible, clear, tailored to the claimant’s needs and the state of the local labour market, and agreed by both the claimant and the DWP. It also says claimants should be properly informed.

Real world not the same as the idealistic picture of claimant commitment

However in the real world SSAC found it was pretty mixed picture. It found some good practice but also examples of lone parents not being informed of their right to reduced work searches, re-assessment interviews lasting just ten minutes and “not all work coaches are using discretion fairly or reasonably and opt for generic, rather than tailored, actions. We saw examples of work coaches copying and pasting actions from a shared document which had become standard in their local Jobcentre.”

As usual the DWP itself didn’t seem to have an overall picture of what was happening as it couldn’t be bothered to put together a national picture. So it is rather strange that the present SSAC committee is concentrating on punitive measures. Or is it?

The present committee under Stephen Brien, who worked for Iain Duncan Smith’s Centre for Policy Studies and now works for the United Arab Emirates funded Legatum Institute is more inclined to want to correct inefficiency in the DWP than to take tough action over the welfare of claimants.

What is deeply worrying is that many claimants – particularly more elderly disabled claimants now looking for work in their 60s and suffering poor health could get some very harsh treatment. They might be lucky and get a really sympathetic work coach or they could be landed with a jobsworth or worse a power maniac who enjoys putting the disadvantaged down. Will SSAC be bothered? Documents referred to in this article can be found on the SSAC website here.

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11 thoughts on “Exclusive: Benefits watchdog wants tougher punishment for jobless and disabled claimants after DWP bungles new sanctions system

  1. it should analyse which individuals – including persons with protected characteristics, such as age and race – are relatively more likely to be impacted by these changes (protected characteristics) What!

    Like

  2. It is about time that
    1 The passport control officers have the right to check if the traveller is on benefits and can inform
    DWP to investigate
    2 DWP should be able to contact the DVLA to ascertain what car the claimant has if any
    3 DWP should stop payments for 4 children or more
    4 DWP should offer an incentive to those informing on benefit cheats
    5 Those on benefits for more than 5 years and not contributing to the economy should be rehoused in cheaper areas

    Like

    • Well you are going to add to bureaucracy over this, Mike. Long queues at immigration while officials check whether you are on benefit ( it will have to be done to everybody to avoid discrimination); incentives might lead to people falsely claiming neighbours they hate are benefits cheats and most long term claimants already live in social or council housing in poorer areas already so unless you are proposing they are deported to developing countries there isn’t any cheaper place to live.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Are you some kind of fascist Mike? You’re certainly fond on the idea of dialling down on the rights and freedoms of people not convicted of any crime.

      You’re obviously one of those loons who think those on benefits receive so much on Universal Credit that they can indulge in foreign travel. It’s under 75 quid a week, so even the cost of the passport would be prohibitive.

      What business is it of the DWP whether a climant owns a car? It’s none of the DWP’s business, and the DVLA would be committing a criminal offence sharing that information without just cause under data protection laws. The DWP can’t even force a claimant to provide their worksearch in any particular way, or check with a potential employer whether they’ve attended an interview or not if the claimant has asked them not to share data.

      Why should families with more than 4 children lose out? Why should innocent kids suffer? Do you get some strange kind of kick from child abuse?

      There used to be a hotline to shop ‘benefit cheats’. Sadly none of the royal family were prosecuted, and eventually the hotline was closed down simply because too many Daily Mail readers started trying to shop night workers because their curtains were drawn during the day. I’d like to see Tory tax evaders brought to justice as around 180 billion pounds of potential taxation are lost every year that way. Benefit ‘fraud’ accounts for just over a billion pounds, but most of that is actually down to mistakes made by the DWP itself. In fact, around 3,500 staff work on DWP benefit ‘fraud’, whilst a mere 350 or so HMRC staff work on fighting tax evasion.

      Most people on benefits are already living in the cheapest housing they can find, and many are having to top up their rent due to the bedroom tax, and increasingly because private rents pretty much everywhere are higher than LHA rates will pay. 95% of PRS rents in Wales are above what LHA will pay.

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  3. Haven’t paid me a penny for over a decade and a half now and massively underpaid before that, on the rare occasions I needed to claim. Threat of interned in mental prison for life if I carry on trying to get my ‘papers’ back, trying to identify the perps/ hold them accountable etc. Zero chance of building a career now after all this time….what penalty can be bigger than that? I wonder how many others have had this done to them….most presumably died on streets by now?

    Liked by 2 people

      • helps knowing i’m not the only one…..have you heard of anybody actually making it back? i’m no layabout….trying to run a business here without papers, still waiting to be done for tax evasion atm in an attempt to get back onto the system….best plan i have right now, but nobody really buying much with the market how it is atm….+ having to beg to use other people’s bank accounts is not nice/ humiliating in itself 😦

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  4. About time! People should earn their money not have their hard out getting the government to keep them and their families! Too many job vacancies ! Also the stick brigade that work the system for benefits- mental health, bad backs! While I am fully aware that genuine people are in genuine dire circumstances it is a benefit they are claiming not a way of life! Only the ones with genuine claims should be being paid! Yes make it tougher stop them working on the side while claiming! Can’t this government get anything right! Seems they have time to spend lining their own pockets!

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  5. Seems a lot of the SSAC all have managerial experience in disability charities. Hayle Hignell works for Citizens Advice head of policy for families, also was seconded to DWP for role out of universal credit.

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